IV. AN EVALUATION OF ROCK ART
A. Historical Reconstruction
The appearance of Homo Sapiens on Earth marks the emergence of a new species: one able to communicate through a complex assemblage of vocalizations that we call language. This species spread across the earth, and we are its issue. Early vocalizations, gestures and other communicative expressions, either oral or visual, were not preserved. But their graphic messages did reach us. While some art objects have been unearthed in early archaeological sites, the bulk of prehistoric creative expressions is preserved in the form of rock art. Its study and evaluation provides unique insight into man's intellectual life during the last 40,000 years, and reveals his imagination and conceptual adventures. The consistency of subjects and figures exhibited in rock art throughout the world testifies to the common origin of the human intellect.
In every territory which has been inhabited by human beings, rich concentrations of rock art provide new perspectives into the history of mankind, from Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers to contemporary collectors, fishermen and pastoral societies. As a result of the information gleaned from these creative registers, we have gained a greater historical awareness of the remote past in many countries of Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania.
Because it falls well before the advent of writing, rock art constitutes a major testimony of early man's expression of himself and of his world view. While even the most ancient script is just over 5,000 years old, rock art provides a record of the way man lived many thousands of years earlier. Yet despite its value as a source of cultural, social and historical information, in most regions of the world this expression of human creativity has been sorely neglected. For one reason or another much of the knowledge of regional scholars does not become available to the rest of the world. In order to establish a more cooperative and receptive forum for thought, it is vital that researchers share their conclusions on the state of rock art with the international community.
Technical aspects of culture progress in a more or less coherent evolution. New inventions and innovations constitute the basis of each step in the evolutionary sequence, and result from experiences which motivate sub sequent progress. It is questionable, however, whether such logical evolution occurs in the artistic aspect of culture as well. Current cultural standard influence the evaluation and appreciation of art and creativity. Aesthetic change from person to person and from culture to culture according to fluctuations in style and taste. This concern should be kept in mind when rock art styles are described as realistic, descriptive, abstract or symbolic, for such terms reflect our own degree of comprehension and our own culture criteria which are the result of complex, dialectical and individual capacities. The artist did not represent everything he saw or knew, but instead mad specific choices. Although the subject matter varies consistently from on age to another, it is always rather circumscribed within each age; thus the frequency and assemblage of subjects allow us to construct a rudimentary hierarchy of the artist's values. The gamut of subject matter is always well-defined and consistent within specific cultural and tribal patterns. There have always been defined impulses to paint, draw or engrave in a certain way, and both subject matter and style are reflections of deep motivations.
Rock art may help in defining such patterns of culture. When assemblages can be identified chronologically, each one represents a different stage in the cultural sequence; hence, through subject matter associations, rock art can divulge many aspects of human life. The depiction of the species of animal hunted and of the food gathered tells us much about the ecosystem in which man lived. The depiction of weapons, tools and other objects reveal his technical abilities. The illustration of his myths and beliefs bring back to our consciousness essential aspects of our intellectual roots, and displays the existential relationship between Man, Nature and the "Supernatural".
Comparative studies help to identify similar kinds of societies around the world. Certain kinds of hunting societies, for example, tend to depict animals in a particular style and to use a consistent assemblage of symbols the world over. Pastoral societies from different regions have stylistic characteristics in common and focus their representations on the animals they breed. The art of fishermen or of pastoral populations which may be quite distant from one another may show similar traits of style. No doubt, daily concerns and specific patterns of activities have had parallel impacts on peoples with similar activities and backgrounds, resulting in similar trends of figurative output. It seems, therefore, that patterns of style and subject matter indicate specific horizons of mentality and hence enable us to detect stages of culture. Thus it already seems possible to define the meaning of style in a very general way; of course the details of each figure may still reveal much more about the individual artist's state of mind, preoccupations and motivations within his cultural horizon. Rock art studies may have a tremendous impact in the near future in reconstructing the history of mankind and .of specific ethnic and cultural entities. Such studies today are at an incipient stage and a fast development is expected in the next few years.
B. World Distribution
While today it seems that we live in a world where the arts nave an ever-decreasing role in day-to-day living, early man apparently viewed art as an integral and essential part of his daily life. In every part of the world separate human groups painted and engraved rock art. Indeed, rock appears to nave been the first canvas used by man, in every part of the world.
As mentioned already, major concentrations of rock art are found more or less evenly distributed on earth's inhabited land. We shall start our survey in southern Africa which, according to present reports, has the greatest concentration of rock art in the world. There are major concentrations in Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In northern Africa there are also major concentrations, located in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Somalia and the Sudan.
In Asia, major concentrations in the Near East are known in Iran, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sinai (Egypt) and Anatolia (Turkey). In central Asia and the Far East significant concentrations are found in Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Pakistan and in several republics of the USSR. Major rock art sites in North America are located both in Canada and the USA. In Latin America they are known in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
In Europe, major concentrations are found in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the URSS.
In Oceania, by far the major concentrations known are in Australia, including Tasmania; others are found in Easter Island (Chile), Hawaii (USA), New Guinea, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.
Recent research indicates that the beginning of rock art on every continent goes back much farther in time than was believed a few years ago. In Africa the oldest art dated so far is from the Apollo 11 Cave in Namibia, where painted animal figures on stone slabs were found at an archaeological level defined by W.E. Wendt as "Middle Stone Age", dated by three C-14 tests to 28,400 - 26,700 and 26,300 B.P. In Tanzania, the earliest rock art is from the Kondoa and Singida districts, and may be even older; however, no C-14 dates are available so far. A sequence of different styles of Early Hunters' rock paintings (recorded during a UNESCO consultation in 1981) is likely to have started earlier than any other rock art dated so far and, as stated in a subsequent chapter, may well be over 40,000 years old. in northern Africa, the earliest dates available so far for the beginning of rock art are much later than in southern Africa; they refer to Early Hunters' art from the Acacus range in Libya, going back to the late Pleistocene, and date according to F. Mori to ca. 12,000 B.P. Similar stylistic assemblages are known from the Tassili'n'Ajjer in Algeria and from the Ennedi in Chad.
In the Near East the earliest clues for dating are from central Arabia (Dahthami Wells), and are likely to belong to the Pleistocene epoch, between 14,000 and 10,000 B.C. In central Asia and the Far East the data so far are more limited than elsewhere. Mobiliary art from Malta in the Baikal region of central Siberia has been dated to ca. 18,000 B.C. By comparison, A.P. Okladnikov has proposed a Pleistocene date for ancient rock art sites of similar styles in various parts of central Siberia.
In India, in Madhya Pradesh at Bhimbetka, V.S. Wakankar detected a series of rock paintings from the Stone Age which he located in the Pleistocene, while decorate ostrich eLyEshells from the same area have been dated by C-14 to 25,000 B.P. This figure may constitute an approximate date for the origin of rock art in India, and possibly in some parts of Soviet Siberia; thus far th is site contains the earliest dated art yet discovered in Asia.
In Europe the earliest evidence of cave art goes back to the Aurignacian period, sometime between 33,000 and 25,000 B.P. Some graphic markings gave been attributed to the Mousterian period and are considered a "prefigurative" stage in graphism. This hypothesis is controversial, but should it prove to be correct, the earliest graphic markings in Europe would turn out to be older than 40,000 B.P. So far, no figurative images have been demonstrated to exist at that stage.
In the Americas the earliest art dated so far comes from the southern continent where in Piaui State, Brazil, anthropic layers, connected with rock art and including fragments of painted rock surface, have been dated by C-14 to ca. 17,000 B.P. In the far south of Argentina at Rio Pinturas, in the province of Santa Cruz, C-14 datings have again enabled researchers to locate early representational assemblages as far back as 12,000 B.P. Nothing as early has been dated so far in northern and central America, although stylistically, the Early Hunters' rock art assemblages in Baja California, Mexico, and in the states of California and Washington, USA, may well turn out to be of a comparable early date.
In Australia and Oceania the earliest evidence of art so far is provided by graphic markings at Koonalda Cave-near the south-western edge of South Australia, west of Adelaide, dated by C-14 to ca. 20,000 B.P.
This brief summary of the earliest dates of rock art available so far seem-s to indicate that the earliest rock art we know of may have come into existence more or less in the same time periods, that is, between 40,000 and 30,000 B.P., both in western Europe and in southern Africa. In two more continents, Asia and Oceania, rock art was already present before 20,000 B.P. There is evidence of rock art in Latin America dated around 17,000 B.P., although future research may prove that it appeared on the American continent even earlier.
On the whole, rock art appears to be a characteristic of Homo Sapiens, forming a significant element of man's culture.
C. Ecological Setting of Rock Art
A large percentage of the 148 major areas of rock art detected so far is located in currently desert or semi-desert areas. We may define these areas as zones in the present ecological situation. This in the Dahthami Wells in central Arabia to Tromso e Acacus in the Libyan Sahara to Panaramitee Hill in South Ausralia; from the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa to San Ignazio in Baja California, Mexico; from Valcamonica in the Italian Alps to the Middle Yenisei River in Siberia; and from Rio Chubut in Argentinian Patagonia to Har Karkom in the Israeli Negev desert. On the other hand, the data available so far indicate that the less dense areas of rock art are confined to the regions covered today by large tropical forests. We find very little evidence of rock art in Brazilian Amazonia, in the Congo and in other west-central African countries, and in south-eastern Asia.
The major concentrations of Palaeolithic cave art of Europe are located in the dead end area which faces the Atlantic Ocean. In the Franco-Cantabrian region in fact man is likely to have moved about much less than in eastern Europe, the Balkans or the Mediterranean areas, where later civilizations flourished. In Australia this phenomenon repeats itself; although man must have arrived to the continent from the north, populating that area before expanding southward, the earliest instances of roc art occur in the south, in a dead end facing the Southern Ocean, at Koonaida Cave.
In Africa, once again, the major concentrations of the earliest art horizons come from Tanzania and Namibia, which are both rather marginal areas in late Pleistocene human movements. The same may be said of places such as Rio Pinturas in southern Patagonia, or of the penisula of Baja California in Mexico. Such recurrent ecological and topographic environments for early rock art still demand an explanation. There is no doubt, however, that man arrived to these areas with the intellectual capacities for producing art, and found in them settings which were particularly favorable to artistic creation.